As if Ohio State needed more motivation for their College Football Playoff rematch with Clemson, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney may have provided some.
Swinney, whose team defeated the Buckeyes in last year’s semifinals, listed the Buckeyes 11th on his final ballot in the USA Today coaches’ poll, which was released Monday by the paper.
No. 2 Clemson (10-1) and No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) will meet in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, with No. 1 Alabama (11-0) facing No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) the same day in the Rose Bowl – albeit in Arlington, Texas due to COVID-19 restrictions – with the winners meeting Jan. 11 in Miami for the national title.
Swinney has argued teams that played more games should be rewarded by the selection committee in a season affected by COVID-19. Big Ten schools started their seasons later than the other power conferences, and three of Ohio State’s games were cancelled due to the pandemic.
“I think the games matter,” Swinney told reporters Sunday in a conference call. “The mental and physical toll of a season, there’s nobody out there that would say that somebody who’s played 11 games versus somebody who’s played six is better physically or something like that because it’s a long season.
“We’re going on Week 21. These guys have had no break. It’s been a grind, not just football-wise, but the mental challenge and the personal sacrifice and commitment that everybody’s had to make to be able to play and continue to play. It’s been incredible.”
Of the 61 coaches who voted in the poll, Swinney’s 11th-place ranking of Ohio State was the lowest, although seven others also left the Buckeyes out of their top four spots. Alabama’s Nick Saban and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, whose team is ranked fifth in the country, listed Ohio State fifth.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s who executes better and plays tougher in the end,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said Sunday. “When you play in big games, you have to execute at a high level. That’s really what it comes down to. Both teams are going to play hard. Everything is on the line. It is who executes better is going to pull it out. We have to do that. Whether we played six, eight, 10, or they played 12, I don’t really know.”
Notre Dame, which suffered its first loss of the season to Clemson on Saturday in the ACC championship game, were left out of the top four by 23 of the 61 coaches. Texas A&M was listed in the top four by 23 coaches, and seven had unbeaten Cincinnati (9-0) in that group.